The first time I used a GoPro was the diminutive Hero4 Black, nearly eight years ago. It was a very different world back then — most of India was still new to the world of smartphones, cameras were either too pixelated or too expensive, and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were at the peak of their magical careers. Eight years later, as I opened the packaging of the latest generation GoPro — the Hero11 Black — literally everyone has a smartphone, the latter’s cameras are now 200 megapixels in resolution (shooting all sorts of incredible 8K resolution video footage), and both Argentina and Portugal look set to move on from the best footballers of all time at the ongoing Qatar World Cup.
Before I proceed with the camera, though, here’s a bit of context — football, I feel, is rather relevant to GoPro. That’s not because the sport of football is riddled with acts of rampant, fast-paced adventure — it sure is, but that’s not what I’m getting at. You see, no matter what technical changes come about, joga bonito remains the same at its core. Millions of dollars and swanky new tech may have trickled their way into the sport, but that hasn’t taken away the sheer charm of an unknown teenager becoming an overnight national hero by catapulting their nation into the next round of the World Cup.
The story with a GoPro is somewhat similar. In the eight years since my first tryst with a GoPro aboard a catamaran sail in Goa, the tiny action camera does not feel transformationally different. The menus are familiar, the capabilities feel the same too — yet, at the end of the day, the Hero 11 Black is undeniably more advanced than what it was, years ago.
Back in the day, the GoPro Hero 4 Black needed an external case to be used underwater. It wasn’t neat or seamless — the buttons were difficult to press, and as I’d learned the hard way back then, if you weren’t careful in latching the external waterproof casing, that was goodbye for your camera right there.
The company fixed this six years ago, with the launch of the Hero 5 Black. Since then, all GoPro cameras have been waterproof by default, and carried a cutout on the front with a monochrome display to read key video stats. In 2019, the company removed the need to fit a harness on the camera if you wanted to attach mounts, and from 2020’s Hero 9 Black onward, all GoPro cameras also come with a multi-colour front display that acts as a monitor for recording video blogs.
On the face of it, therefore, the Hero 11 Black already has very slim margins to improve upon.
As a result, in terms of physical dimensions, it is exactly the same as its predecessor, the Hero 10 Black. It weighs the same, and is the exact same size as well. It also gets a hydrophobic lens cover that will help repel water from the surface of the lens when shooting underwater.
What the Hero11 Black improves on include the use of an ‘Enduro’ battery that apparently delivers better battery life despite being the same size (and also in extremely cold temperatures), and the use of a ‘taller’ image sensor with a peculiar, 8:7 aspect ratio. The camera also gets better motion stabilization — called ‘HyperSmooth 5.0’ in GoPro’s marketing jargon.
What do these changes mean?
On paper, this tall sensor will suit the Hero11 Black to a wider range of use cases — since it would fit a wider range of crops to create videos native to social media platforms.
These crop factors include sizes such as the tall layout of a mobile phone (with the 9:16 aspect ratio) suited for Instagram, and the traditional landscape layouts for YouTube. While such crops were possible previously as well, what is important to note is that the Hero11 Black can do these crops now at the highest video and photo resolutions.
This means that you can get more impressive action footage from the Hero11 Black, than before. For instance, there is HyperView, one of GoPro’s ‘digital lenses’ (which is what it calls its various crop modes). With HyperView, you can use the full sensor to record a video. This creates a very tall video, with plenty of distortion similar to a fisheye lens happening at the edges. This helps create a much fancier video footage, since even when you crop into the video to export it at up to 5.3K resolution in 60fps, you get Instagram or YouTube-worthy videos that look like they’ve been shot with a specialized camera.
The larger sensor allows the camera to make the most of its other ‘digital lens’ — SuperView. This uses the full sensor and the entire field of view of the camera’s fixed lens to shoot super wide-angle video footage. Here, too, you get the ability to crop into the footage, and create smartphone or TV-view videos at up to 60fps in 5.3K, 120fps in 4K and 240fps in 2.7K.
But what these abilities do is that they make the GoPro Hero11 Black a much better overall camera. Given how much smartphone cameras have evolved (some even come with super stabilized gimbal modes), this difference can give the Hero11 Black all of its value.
You see, even with an average user who isn’t into activities, but wants a better-than-just-a-phone camera that isn’t elaborate or complicated, having the ability to shoot full resolution, high frame rate videos makes the Hero11 Black a mainstream camera — and not just a niche action-centric one. To suit this, GoPro now ships the camera with its simplified menu format. This makes it easy for any user to use, and not feel daunted by the complex ‘Pro mode’ menus.
GoPro even states that its video footage is now shot in 10-bit colour — which would help creators in applying their own colour profiles during post-production. The camera can also shoot RAW photos in burst mode, thus giving more users more ‘pro’ abilities — should they need them.
So, is it a flawless camera now?
Unfortunately, not quite. One of my biggest peeves with GoPro footage is the amount of noise that its videos render. A large part of this is owing to the sensor size, and while GoPro prioritizes footage sharpness to compromise on noise, the eventual results can look lackluster, especially if you are not in well-lit situations.
This makes evening footage still look a tad unimpressive, which would be a major deterrent in GoPro’s efforts to make its camera relevant for more people. Sure, its video stabilization is pretty much the best in compact cameras and smartphones, but if the footage itself gets marred by grain, that would eat a fair bit into the overall charm of the camera itself.
The Quik app has a decent interface, and its wireless operations and file transfer work consistently enough. However, there is a sense of sluggishness to the overall way Quik works, and even simple photo transfers take a while.
Is it worth buying?
At ₹51,500, the Hero 11 Black is not a camera that you’d purchase as an afterthought. You’d buy it only if you really want to — or don’t wish to splurge all the way for an APS-C mirrorless camera. This is where my football analogy comes in.
You see, over time, GoPro has gotten a lot of tech infused in its offering, and upgrades have come. But, over time, the camera line has picked up a risk of getting a reputation for repetition. If you could get its predecessor for cheaper, you should go for that — for even if GoPro is prepping to appeal to general users, it still remains a camera that’s geared for action footage. For pure action shots, there are also plenty of cheaper options to consider, too.
Sadly enough, it feels similar to how Ronaldo and Messi, once the unchallenged purveyors of world football, are being overshot by the younger (and lesser known) talents.
It is, however, possibly the best compact camera that’s available in the market right now — much like how you wouldn’t write off Ronaldo or Messi, at any point.