So there’s a new GoPro in town. Maybe you saw a bunch of new features and wondered if the new camera is worth the upgrade from an older model? Maybe you want to know if it’s a better fit than a rival camera like DJI’s Action 4? Here we’ll go through everything that’s new with the Hero 12 and hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll feel ready to make an informed decision. There are some useful new tools, some neat hardware tweaks and of course, an important aesthetic update this time around. All of which we’ll get to below.
Okay, deep breath for this one as there’s a bit to unpack. Battery life has always been a bit of a pain point for action cameras. Their smaller form-factor, exposure to different and high performance needs (shooting 4K slow-mo, and so on) means they are constantly battling basic physics. GoPro’s claim then, that the Hero 12 offers “2x runtime” will have seen even the most ragged of outdoor filmers crack a smile. But remember, runtime isn’t the same as “record” time.
What we’re seeing here is an extension of the amount of time the camera can run at high power drain modes before it reaches its thermal limit and has to stop. So the claim is really that you should get about twice the recording time at the most demanding settings. If you’re shooting at good ol’ 1080p/30, for example, battery performance is only extended by a few minutes.
To test this, I pitted the Hero 12 against the Hero 11 in two scenarios, each at the opposite ends of the “intensity” spectrum. On the high end, we set the cameras to record at 4K/120 while walking with the camera on a standard grip. On the other end of the scale we recorded a basic 1080/30 video for as long as the camera could. Both were performed outside to allow for airflow, which is what the camera was optimized for.
The average duration for one continuous video was 35 minutes with the Hero 12 while the Hero 11 came in at just over 20 minutes. Those times are shorter than GoPro's own tests and projections, but mine were in static, slightly hotter conditions thanks to the local weather. Importantly, that represents over a 50 percent improvement over the Hero 11. Whether the conditions were ideal or not is less important than a noticeable difference between the two cameras. Initially, both cameras were giving similar runtimes, but I had left the Hero 12 on higher bitrate settings from previous tests which was bringing it back down to parity with the older camera.
(This section has been updated after further testing: 9/20/23 12:40pm ET)
I don’t think anyone was expecting this one, but it’s a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Using a microphone with a GoPro typically involves using the Media Mod, which is usually an $80 additional purchase. Even with that, going wireless requires having a compatible microphone. With the new Bluetooth capability, you can use the AirPods (or other Bluetooth headset) that you may already own.
I wouldn’t recommend using a microphone over Bluetooth if you can avoid it, as they’re typically designed for calls rather than delivering a standup to camera. That said, the quality is good enough for impromptu vlogs and or live commentary as you take part in your activity of choice. Either way, it’s a neat new feature that’s really easy to set up. I was worried about latency — a common problem with Bluetooth audio generally — but any there might be is barely perceptible.
This functionality also allows you to control your GoPro from afar using voice commands. I might wager that this is equally, if not more useful to a lot of people. GoPro’s voice commands are fairly reliable, so it’s nice to be able to ask the camera to take a photo from a distance so you don’t need to set a timer. Likewise, you can end a video without having to record those final seconds of you walking back to the camera to press the button. All these little time saves add up!
The big news with the Hero 11 Black was a larger sensor that meant you could do cool things like punch out different aspect ratio videos in 4K from the same source material. That source video was also usable on its own, if square-ish 8:7 video was something you needed. With the Hero 12, 8:7 mode is now available everywhere, including TimeWarp, TimeLapse and Night Effects modes.
An 8:7 TimeWarp is a fun addition, but the real gain here is the option to shoot in that mode, capture every pixel available to you, and then have the flexibility to do more with it later. For Night Effects, for example, you could output a vertical version for social media, and a 16:9 one for YouTube and both of them would be in full resolution. This is the only new direct video feature this time around, which will disappoint some potential upgraders, but for fans of those specific modes it’s good news.
Now that 8:7, full-sensor recording is available across the board, GoPro is seeking to make some of its use cases even easier. One such example is vertical capture mode. In short, since the Hero 11 there’s no technical reason why you need to rotate or mount the camera vertically as you can achieve full resolution 9:16 videos even with the camera positioned horizontally.
Essentially, this feature provides a way to record a video for social media without having to either remount it or to punch it out in 9:16 via the app. Thus, vertical capture greatly smooths the process from shooting on the camera to sharing with your followers. There’s not much more to say here other than it works as advertised and should save a fair amount of time for those who use that aspect ratio frequently.
HDR video in ultra-high resolutions
Dynamic range may sound like a technical setting for pro photographers, but it’s important even for casual users. As a camera tries to capture a shot, it will assess the lighting and adjust its exposure to maintain the best balance (unless you’re using all manual settings). When there are bright and dark areas in the same shot, the camera has to make a best guess. To improve on that, modern cameras have HDR modes specifically for times when there’s a “High Dynamic Range (HDR).” In short, the Hero 12 Black claims to be better than its predecessors in these situations.
Technically, the Hero 11 is capable of outputting HDR video (the Hero 12 and Hero 11 share the same internal hardware), but you usually had to do some legwork in post to get there. The Hero 12 has “HDR” as one of the shooting modes right in the menus making it a simple button push to get those more natural tones.
In side by side testing, there’s a marked difference between the Hero 12 and last year’s camera. In the same, sunny conditions during the day I found the sky was sometimes blown out on the Hero 11 when there were also a lot of shaded areas in shot as the camera tries to expose for both. The Hero 12 was able to handle the same lighting conditions without blowing out bright areas or under exposing the shade giving a more balanced image overall.
(Speaking of HDR, the GoPro 12’s implementation isn’t true HDR in the sense that it captures using the BT.2020 HDR color space — i.e., if you plug it into your Samsung HDR TV you won’t see it in HDR, but just regular TV mode. Rather, it takes two images of each frame in quick succession — like bracketing on a photo camera — one exposed for shadows and one for highlights, and combines them into a single image. The end result is more detailed skies, shadowy areas, etc.)
Back in the olden days, there was a light “hack” for getting the best selfie out of a GoPro: put the camera into Time lapse Photo mode and grab multiple shots just to be sure. In newer GoPros you have to grab a frame from a time lapse via the app as the camera automatically outputs a ready-to-share video. Interval Photo, then, revives some of that old functionality in a new, improved way. The basic gist is that you don't need to use a timer, instead you can capture multiple photos and pick the one you like best, such as the one below where I had all the time in the world to perfectly place my hand on top of the towers.
To prevent confusion, Interval Photo is a setting under the Photos menu and not the Time Lapse menu. From there you can set a wide range of intervals — from half a second up to two minutes — and use this with all photo types, including HDR and SuperPhoto (GoPro’s “auto” mode). This differs from a time lapse where the images are processed in a way that prevents sudden changes in exposure between photos for a smooth video. That’s to say, images are optimized for the resulting video. With Interval Photo, they’re standard photos for use as photos with no further processing.
Night Effects come to photos (kinda)
Another feature that builds on something that was introduced in the Hero 11 is the extension of the Night Effects (Star Trails, Vehicle Lights and Light Painting) to create a photo. These three effects use long exposures and witchcraft (maybe) to create videos with these dramatic light-based effects. With the Hero 12, you will now be presented with a photo alongside the video. There’s no extra action required to get this, it’ll just show up in your gallery automatically.
What you won’t see are any controls or any way to choose at which point of the video the image will be extracted from, the image appears to be based on the final frame of the video, which makes sense. That said, in our testing it generally produces good results (assuming your video was good in the first place!). Again, you’ve pretty much always had the option to extract frames from videos and with the Quik app that’s easier than ever before, but having one ready for you, is another welcome convenience.
Steve Dent contributed the following section.
GP-Log is designed to give creators more control over images by increasing dynamic range, specifically by allowing more detail in shadows and highlights. That can be combined with 10-bit encoding which boosts the total number of colors to billions, meaning subtle gradients (mainly in skies) will show less banding.
As ever with log, it can be a challenge to get a nice image out of it. The LUTs supplied by GoPro do an OK job, but significant tweaking is still required by the editor to gain any major benefits. Plus, it’s not a very aggressive log setting, so the boost in dynamic range is small, akin to DJI’s D-Log M setting. It does give editors who know what they’re doing more options, but if you’re unfamiliar with log, HDR is a much easier way to improve dynamic range – with no adjustments required.
New mounting option
If you’ve been using GoPros for any amount of time, you’ll be familiar with the “finger” mount system. It’s… fine. It’s certainly sturdy, which is what you want in an action camera, but it’s also fiddly and those thumb screws can get real tight, so tight that sometimes it feels personal. Sometimes you wish you could just use the tripod or selfie pole you already have without having to dip into your bag of adapters. Well, now you can.
Flip the GoPro Hero 12 Black over and lo and behold, you’ll be presented with a 1/4 inch thread (along with the sound of angels harmonizing, possibly). I have a bunch of the aforementioned GoPro-to-tripod mount adapters, but I can never seem to find them when I need them. I also have a bunch of small tripods that will get a lot more usage now that they are directly compatible with the GoPro. Not to mention, if you use your GoPro as a webcam, it’s not a lot easier to use with other streaming mounts and boom arms. I’m not sure what it says about the Hero 12 when this is my personal favorite new feature, but here we are!
GoPro Hero 12 Black