GoPro Hero 12 Black hands-on review: speckled, simplified and streamlined

GoPro trims some fat to make the Hero 12 Black an intuitive action camera with world-class stabilization and improved thermals

A photo of the GoPro Hero 12 Black action camera
(Image: © Basil Kronfli)

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GoPro's 2023 flagship, the Hero 12 Black, brings back the iconic action camera brand's ubiquitous design with – on the surface – modest upgrades. Dig a little deeper, though, and while the 12 Black uses the same sensor introduced on its predecessor, the Hero 11 Black, this time around, the interface has been streamlined, mounting options improved, audio solutions upgraded, capture modes added, and there's a new Max Lens Mod in town. 

While the Hero 12 Black probably won't justify an upgrade from the GoPro Hero 11 Black, if you've got an older GoPro – especially a Hero 9 Black or earlier – on first impressions, the 12 Black seems like a serious refinement and a solid upgrade.

It isn't a clean sweep against other action cameras, though. While we still need to review our Hero 12 Black footage, you only need to glance at its specs to know that it isn't set to be a low-light champion. Set against cameras like the DJI Action 4, GoPro's smaller sensor will likely generate more noise.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

With upgraded HyperSmooth 6.0 stabilization, native vertical shooting, and an upgraded easy mode that gives novices and pros alike loads of control and a simple way to capture, as well as dual audio channels and external (Bluetooth) mic support, we're moderately optimistic ahead of our week with the GoPro Hero 12 Black; here are our first impressions:

GoPro Hero 12 Black design

Apart from a speckled blue-on-black finish and an added 1/4-inch 20 tripod thread, there's nothing new about the GoPro Hero Black's design. Its dimensions are exactly the same as those of the Hero 11 Black, it's also 154g, there's a 1.4-inch LCD on the front and a 2.27-inch LCD around the back, and it's got a sliding door, underneath which is the battery cavity, microSD card slot, and USB-C port.

Being the same dimensions isn't a bad thing for anyone kitted out with GoPro accessories and looking to upgrade. GoPro's Mods work on the Hero 12 Black, including the Media Mod, Display Mod, Light Mod, Max Lens Mod, and the new Max Lens Mod 2.

The new GoPro gets a standard tripod socket for first time (Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

The Hero 12 Black is also just as waterproof as older GoPros, good for a 33ft (10m) dunk, and it can be mounted on any action cam mount thanks to its flip-out feet. Our design highlight this year is the addition of tripod mounting, a boon for anyone who uses GorillaPods or other mini tripods for mirrorless and DSLRs. In the flesh, it functions exactly as you'd expect – a welcome addition to a very familiar system.

GoPro Hero 12 Black shooting modes

When it comes to video, there are three main upgrades for us: HDR video, a new GoPro log capture and LUTs, and easier access to vertical and 8:7 video.

Starting with HDR video, this goes all the way up to 5.3K (16:9) or 4K (8:7) resolution at up to 30fps, and if you want higher frame rates, you'll need to dial it down to 4K (16:9, 60fps). The only HDR footage we've seen is what GoPro showed us, and it looked fantastic, unsurprisingly. We're looking forward to seeing what real-world results we can get for our full review.

The addition of GoPro's log look, called GP-Log is another feature we're excited to test out. Dropping the contrast and boosting the dynamic range, the mode should woo anyone planning on splicing GoPro footage in with other camera footage, or just color grading with more exacting precision than was possible on footage from past GoPros. The Hero 12 Black also shoots at 10-bit, which should match with GP-Log nicely for maximum image information.

As soon as we fired up the Hero 12 Black and started shooting, we saw an option to switch between 8:7, 16:9, or 9:16. This instant access in the main camera UI is an excellent way of getting even more out of the almost square sensor, and in general, the whole Easy Mode interface has been streamlined, and at the same time, made more powerful with access to all shooting modes.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

As standard, the Hero 12 Black captures footage with the same angle of view as the Hero 11 Black, but thanks to the Max Lens Mod 2.0, pictured above, this can be boosted to 177º, which is the widest FOV of any single-lens action camera.

GoPro shoots with comparable modes this time around, though has trimmed the fat to cull modes it found users weren't shooting in, specifically when there have been superior alternatives available. For example, 2.7K linear horizon lock is out, but 5.3k linear horizon lock is better anyway, and the trend to drop some of the surplus modes can be seen throughout.

Practically speaking the maxed out shooting resolutions are the same as those of the Hero 11 Black: 5.3K at up to 60fps and 4K at up to 120fps, 2.7K at up to 240fps, and 1080p at up to 240fps.

GoPro Hero 12 Black: Sound recording

A photo of the GoPro Hero 12 Black action camera

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Connect Bluetooth headphones like Apple AirPods to the GoPro Hero 12 Black, and you're all set with external audio recording. How good it all sounds will depend on your hardware. We quickly tested the 12 Black with a pair of Huawei FreeBuds 4, which we know to isolate voices with an almost robotic clarity but superb background noise suppression. If you plan on using Bluetooth headphones, you'll want to experiment with a few options depending on your needs and what you want to do with your footage.

If you've got another wireless mic like the excellent Rode Wireless Go II, you'll still need to plug in the receiver using the MediaMod, so the GoPro Hero 12 Black's new Bluetooth audio support won't wirelessly slot into advanced videographers existing workflows.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

To access the dual-channel audio – one external mic channel and another camera mic channel – we used the GoPro Quick app. Fire up a clip, select edit, followed by volume, and both channels are displayed. Here, you can choose which to activate and whether to adjust either track's volume. We didn't try mixing audio down using a computer as our footage stayed on the device in our hands-on time, but we look forward to giving it a go in the full review.

If you're using the GoPro microphones, you can expect the same three-mics and on-device noise reduction as offered on the Hero 11 Black. There's also stereo and RAW audio capture, and with a MediaMod, you're adding 3.5mm support. 

GoPro Hero 12 Black additional features

The Hero 12 Black's Bluetooth upgrades mean the action camera can support a total of four Bluetooth devices. So your headphones/mic, Volta, and phone can all be connected without pushing another off. By contrast, the Hero 11 Black could only be connected to one Bluetooth device at a time.

GoPro's also added timecode sync to its Hero 12 to make multi-camera edits easier, plugging into video editing apps like Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro CC to save time getting batches of footage organized.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

It isn't just video that's been boosted with a few extra features. You can now take Light Painting, Star Trail, and Vehicle Light Trail photos, and there's a new Interval Photo feature so you can snap at fixed intervals between 0.5 seconds to 120 seconds.

Perhaps most notably on the performance front, GoPro's boosted battery life bu taking managing thermals and ditching the GPS to save power. If you're up in arms, wondering why the Hero 12 Black is the first GoPro to miss out on one since the Hero 5 Black, here's GoPro's official line on it:

"In GoPro's quest to provide the best battery runtimes possible, they found that a surprisingly low amount of GoPro users were actually applying GPS stickers to content," 

"GPS was also a feature that GoPro encouraged users to turn off to achieve the best battery runtimes possible. So, it was eliminated from HERO12 Black as one of the many steps they took to increase runtimes across the highest speeds and feeds."

The official battery figures are impressive, with GoPro claiming the Hero 12 Black can achieve up to double runtime before thermal shutdown compared to the Hero 11 Black. That translates to 70 minutes of continuous recording at 5.6K 60fps with Hypersmooth 6.0 turned on.

You might notice those runtime figures aren't double what the Hero 11 Black captures. That's because GoPro isn't referring to total runtime on a single charge, but specifically, runtime before heat shuts the camera down. So if you're shooting short clips on a day out, you won't notice as much benefit. For extended videos, though, the Hero 12 Black should be significantly better.

GoPro Hero12 comes with the longer-life Enduro battery as standard (Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

GoPro Hero 12 Black early verdict

The Hero 12 Black brings back what we love about the Hero 11 Black and refines it. Having some hands-on time with the new camera illustrates how much work's been done to the Easy Mode to make the UI both powerful and user-friendly. Even as advanced users, we'd use this mode most of the time – something we couldn't say for the Hero 10's Easy Mode.

While the new Bluetooth audio, log capture, HDR video, and tripod 1/4-inch thread wouldn't make us want to upgrade from the Hero 11 Black, the Hero 12 Black looks set to be a solid bump in features from an older camera, especially the Hero 9 Black, which missed out on GoPro's nippy GP2 processor.

While GoPro's giving DJI a bit of space to enjoy low light supremacy this year, for daytime action adventurers sold into the GoPro ecosystem, with the introduction of HyperSmooth 6.0 in addition to the new features, the Hero 12 Black seems to slot in nicely as the latest in GoPro's line.

Check back for the full review for sample photos and videos, and if you're wondering what the Hero 12 Black's main competition is, read our guide to the best action cameras of 2023.

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Basil Kronfli

Basil Kronfli is a freelance technology journalist and content creator with a number of specialisms. He started his career at Canon Europe, before joining Phone Arena and Recombu as a tech writer and editor. From there, he headed up and runs Tech[edit], a technology YouTube channel, and has worked alongside this role at Future as a Senior Producer, sharpening his considerable video production skills. 

His technical expertise has been called on numerous times by mainstream media, with appearances and interviews on outlets like Sky News, and he provides Digital Camera World with insight and reviews on camera phones, video editing software and laptops, on-camera monitors, camera sliders, microphones and much more.