It’s no secret that we absolutely love using a GoPro for capturing photo and video while snorkeling. Waterproof action cameras let us hold on to the incredible memories that we make through snorkeling in such a unique and cool way, and in our opinion, GoPro does action cameras best.
Because I bought my first GoPro years ago, I have selfies with school bus-sized whale sharks, video watching in fascination as octopuses amble through a coral reef while activating all of its different sorts of camouflage to evade predators, Instagram posts of our view of whale after whale breaching, spinning and diving as male humpbacks compete to mate, and tons of other unique memories that I’ve been able to capture and will hold onto for the rest of my life.
Buying a GoPro was one of the best decisions I made to really make my snorkeling expeditions even better. It really was.
Sentimentality aside, with GoPro’s new Hero9 Black (Amazon), GoPro has made maybe their biggest leap forward ever from one version to the next. There are just a ton of new features like a new 5K image sensor, live video capability, and a lot of tricks that were previously limited to experiments in GoPro Labs.
But, not all of these new features and upgrades will have any impact on using the GoPro Hero9 Black for snorkeling. So, what new features will actually matter for snorkeling? And, do they even make the Hero9 Black the best GoPro for snorkeling? Let’s take a look.
One upgrade that you can usually reliably expect when any camera line gets a new version is the size of the image sensor. The sensor determines, among other things, how big and clear the video and photos are that you can squeeze out of the camera.
But, GoPro has really pushed the envelope with the new sensor in the Hero9 Black, cramming in a 23.6 megapixel image sensor which is nearly double the 12 megapixel sensor found in the Hero8 and Hero7 Black.
The new sensor allows you to record 5K video and take 20MP photos [source], both of which are insanely big and the quality of each is very crisp and detailed. Beyond the size, though, the new sensor will really come in handy for snorkeling when you need to end up cropping your photos or video.
Since you tend to end up farther away from whatever you’re filming (usually marine life) than you would for a normal shot, and since what you’re filming often won’t sit still, it’s not uncommon to end up with photos or video where your subject looks too far away or is off-center. The larger the overall resolution of the photo or video, though, the more that you can crop in to better frame your subject without the photo or video looking distorted or low quality. That’s definitely a huge win for snorkelers.
When GoPro introduced their HyperSmooth digital image stabilization back with the Hero7 Black, it was a huge boon for snorkelers. You may not always feel it, but between currents, surf, paddling, etc., you move around a lot and it can easily be reflected in your (shaky) video. HyperSmooth really helped to keep your shots stable, and it worked really well.
GoPro’s newest version of HyperSmooth (3.0) in the Hero9 Black continues to work even better, but it’s not necessarily a leaps-and-bounds type of upgrade from 2.0 to 3.0. Rather, it’s just a nice incremental improvement. (The new 23.6 megapixel image sensor does help stabilization, though.)
But, the new feature GoPro brought in with the Hero9 Black that is game-changing and will really benefit snorkelers is Horizon Lock, which had previously been limited to GoPro Labs and the GoPro phone app.
Horizon Lock takes image stabilization to a whole new level, allowing you to turn it on and quite literally do a 360-degree barrel roll with minimal effect on your stable, level, upright footage. There is some experimentation left to do with using this in the water (rather than on land), but initial tests really look to put out some incredibly smooth footage where you otherwise would have seen every bump from a wave, push from a current, or vibration from a fin kick.
One complaint that a lot of people had with the Hero8 Black was that GoPro took away the ability to remove the lens cover on the front of the camera. While it would be pretty tough to break your lens cover while snorkeling (replacing the lens cover being one of the main pain points introduced by GoPro previously locking it in place), it also made it impossible for manufacturers to create integrated lenses for your GoPro.
But, the removable lens cover is back in the Hero9 Black, which is going to be great news for snorkelers. The underwater shooting environment is definitely different than that on land, and having more flexibility to switch to different types of lenses can only be helpful.
For now, GoPro has launched a super-wide angle Max lens mod alongside the new Hero9 Black that gives you an extra-huge field of view. It’s not actually that useful for snorkeling, but it demonstrates how this type of swap will work with other lenses as they’re released.
GoPro doesn’t get passed by in technology very often, but the DJI Osmo Action (Amazon) did just that a couple of years ago when it introduced a front-facing “selfie screen” on the front of its action camera that allowed you to see how you’re framing any photo or video when the lens is pointed at you.
GoPro took notice of DJI’s innovation and has responded in kind with it’s own front-facing screen on the Hero9 Black, which looks and works quite nicely.
The majority of the filming and photographing that I do with my GoPro while snorkeling has it pointed away from me. But, my wife and I do also have a lot of really unique ocean selfies from all sorts of exotic water locales that we love, so our various action cameras have been valuable for that purpose as well. These selfies have usually taken several tries to get them framed right, though, so the front-facing screen is a welcome addition for all of the selfie snorkelers out there.
One of the biggest challenges of filming while snorkeling to this point has been the dance of deciding when to be recording, how long to be recording, managing your battery and memory card space, etc. You don’t want to have your GoPro on and recording 100% of the time because it will drain your battery and fill up your memory card, but you don’t want to miss out on anything, either.
Snorkeling can be unpredictable (usually in great ways) and there have definitely been instances where I wasn’t recording and something amazing like a group of manta rays emerge from the depths and glide through an ideal photo spot before I have time to react and get the GoPro rolling. Those are frustrating.
But, GoPro has now introduced a feature called Hindsight that kind of works like a modern DVR in that it actually keeps the Hero9 Black always recording, but only saves what it’s recently been seeing (in a 15- or 30-second reverse window) if you reach out and hit the record button. So, I can just keep the GoPro on with Hindsight activated, pointed to wherever the action might be, and I don’t need to worry about missing any moments so long as I remember to reach out and hit the record button within 15 or 30 seconds.
One downside of Hindsight is that it does use battery at the same rate as if you were recording normally (which makes sense, because it is, more or less), though this feature does spare your memory card. I think it’s worthwhile enough to not have to worry about missing any amazing unexpected moments since I can always pick up an extra battery (Amazon) to have on hand.
GoPro has introduced a bucket of new features that really directly benefit snorkelers, which we’re super pumped about. But, there are a couple of odds-and-ends drawbacks of which to be aware.
First, the GoPro Hero9 Black is about 10% larger and noticeably heavier than the Hero8 Black. Mostly, though, this might only be a little bit annoying when storing it and carrying it around with you. It’s still compact and light overall, especially when compared to a normal camera, and anything this size will still feel plenty light and manageable in the water.
Also, while so many of the new features themselves are really intriguing for snorkelers, the actual performance of the Hero9 Black in terms of frame rates, etc. hasn’t had a huge increase over the Hero8 Black. For me, the new features of the Hero9 Black and much larger image sensor makes it a no-brainer upgrade on my end, but know that if you’re upgrading from the Hero8 Black, it will be more for the features than for performance (save for the huge new image sensor).
Lastly, the retail price for the new GoPro Hero9 Black is $399, which is on the same level as previous releases of other GoPro Hero models. That $399 isn’t nothing, but it is pretty much par for the course for new Hero cameras.
The GoPro Hero9 Black (Amazon) is a fantastic waterproof action camera for snorkeling, and its new features are really going to make a noticeable difference in my photos and videos. But, it is a bit of an investment and it’s always nice to know what your other options are.
Now that the Hero9 Black is out, the Hero8 Black (Amazon) is marked down to $249. The Hero8 Black is still a fantastic snorkeling action camera and HyperSmooth 2.0 will still give you excellent, smooth video. The main features you might miss are the Hero9’s Horizon Lock, Hindsight, and the big bump in sensor size, but the dollars-and-cents savings for the Hero8 might be worth it to you.
If you’re looking for an even more budget-friendly option, the DJI Osmo Action does still give the Hero8 Black a decent run for its money. It has that innovating front-facing selfie screen (which the Hero8 Black does not) and while its image stabilization might not be as finely-tuned as HyperSmooth, it still works quite well. If your budget for an action camera is a little more modest, shelling out $199 for the DJI Osmo Action (Amazon) is absolutely worthwhile and will still give you a ton of awesome underwater memories to hold onto.
(You can check out a big rundown of your various action camera options over at The Best Underwater Action Cameras for Snorkeling: GoPro & More.)
The Deep Dive
I’ve been a huge fan of underwater action cameras for years and years, and GoPro has always impressed me. Now, with some really unique new features in the GoPro Hero9 Black that will really be helpful to snorkelers like Horizon Lock and Hindsight along with a huge new image sensor, GoPro again has my attention.
Given these new features, is the Hero9 Black (Amazon) the best GoPro for snorkeling? Yeah, I think that it is, without a doubt. The features to come out of GoPro Labs for the launch of the Hero9 have really impressed me, and I can’t wait to capture new underwater memories with mine.
Check out more details on the action cameras mentioned above:
Then, learn more about using your GoPro (or other action camera) at a high level for snorkeling below: