The Hero 12 Black is GoPro's 2023 action camera, and if you've used a Hero 11 Black, you might be wondering, what's new? Other than some cosmetic tweaks, it looks the same with identical dimensions, its sensor specs are the same, and the shooting resolutions serve up a hefty dose of deja vu.
Dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear, for 2023, there are a handful of meaningful updates: a new mounting option, Bluetooth mic support, dual-channel audio, and HDR video being the headliners.
Unless you really need log recording or external audio capture, the GoPro Hero 12 Black probably won't justify an upgrade from the Hero 11 Black. But if you've got an older action camera – especially a Hero 9 Black or earlier – the 12 Black is a serious refinement and a solid upgrade.
While lowlight video has always been a limitation of GoPro cameras, though, and with the DJI Action 4 upping the quality on that front, can the Hero 12 Black fend off fresh competition, or is it still the action camera to beat?
GoPro Hero 12 Black design
Apart from a speckled blue-on-black finish and a new 1/4-inch 20 tripod thread, the GoPro Hero 11 and 12 Black are identical to look at. The 12 Black's dimensions are exactly the same as those of the 11 Black, both are 154g, there's a 1.4-inch LCD on the front and a 2.27-inch LCD around the back, and they have a sliding door, underneath which is the battery cavity, microSD card slot, and USB-C port.
Being the same dimensions is great for anyone with GoPro accessories. 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 Hero 12 Black is also just as waterproof as older GoPros, good for a 33ft (10m) dunk and can be mounted on any action cam mount thanks to its flip-out feet. Our design highlight this year is the addition of a 1/4" tripod thread, a boon for anyone who uses GorillaPods or other mini tripods for mirrorless and DSLRs.
GoPro Hero 12 Black video modes
When it comes to video, there are three main upgrades: HDR video, a new GoPro log capture mode, and easier access to vertical and 8:7 video.
When you first launch the camera, it's in Easy Mode by default. This has been streamlined and made more powerful with access to most of the standard shooting modes. You'll need to fire up Pro Mode for HDR or Pro capture.
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 Hero 12 Black also shoots 10-bit footage, though it doesn't match the DJI Osmo Action 4 on the specs front, shooting at an ever so slightly lower bitrate. For us, though, the 12 Black's extra resolution is more important, especially if you plan on cropping post-edit.
To enable the option to shoot in GP-Log mode, you need to activate 10-bit capture in the settings. Once done, you can record log video at a maximum of 5.3K, 8:7, 30fps, or 5.3K, 16:9, 60fps.
GoPro shoots with familiar modes this time around, though it 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. This significantly outperforms DJI's Action 4 maximum resolution, but the Hero 12 Black's noise handling is worse. If you want to shoot a lot of night content and aren't happy with stylized timelapses (or switching to your smartphone) or steadied stills, then the 12 Black might not be for you.
GoPro Hero 12 Black video and stills quality
We tested HDR video out on a searing day on a boat and it made a huge difference by boosting range without dampening vibrancy. When taking the camera indoors of using it in overcast conditions, HDR video flattened scenes too much – making it a great fit-for-purpose tool, but not a one-size-fits-all shooting mode.
Above: GoPro Hero 12 Black footage edited in Premiere Pro
Above: The same GoPro Hero 12 Black footage edited into a montage using the GoPro Quik app
The addition of GoPro's log look, called GP-Log is a bit more consistent. Dropping the contrast and boosting the dynamic range, the mode captured versatile clips that we could retrospectively tune. This doesn't help improve the GoPro's noise handling per se, but if you know what you're doing, shooting in log could be a good way to eke out superior footage in darker scenes.
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 below, this can be boosted to 177º, which is the widest FOV of any single-lens action camera. We've included a Max Lens Mod sample below, which also demonstrates how the 12 Black handles external audio using a set of AirPods Pro.
As for video quality beyond the new modes, GoPro's fantastic stabilization, HyperSmooth 6.0, makes heavy steps, bike shake and even spins through 360 degrees seem like smooth movements or disappear altogether.
GoPro's new AutoBoost feature dials stabilization up or down while adjusting the crop automatically. Almost unnoticeable, this is a great way to get the widest FOV possible while still getting the right level of stabilization.
Footage in bright environments looks crisp, with GoPro flexing its higher resolution over the competition. 5.3K footage is very croppable, and the 2.3K 240fps slow-mo also bests the Osmo Action 4 when it comes to resolved detail. Drop the lights, though, and this changes, so we can't stress enough – the Hero 12 Black is not a nighttime camera.
The 12 Black can grab great photos. When the sun's out, its field of view is wider than your smartphone's ultra-wide camera, especially with the Max Lens Mod 2.0 attached, and in dimly-lit scenes, the night photo modes and Light Painting add welcome novelty for fun, stylized capture.
Typical hand-held shots in dark scenes don't look great so you'll want to steady the camera, and there's no autofocus, so you'll need some distance between lens and subject, but we took some selfies at under a meter away, and they looked fairly detailed.
Connect Bluetooth headphones 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 tested the 12 Black with a pair of Apple AirPods Pro, and you can hear the difference between how they handled vlogging versus the onboard mic in the video above. 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 enthusiast videographers existing workflows. It's nevertheless a great feature to have for anyone who wears helmets, shoots at a distance, or wants to boost voices and mix down the mic track with the backing audio.
Both GoPro's Quik app and video editing tools like Premiere Pro can access each dual-channel audio track. While Quik forces you to choose one track, the benefit of using Premiere Pro is that it gives you access to both tracks, so you can manage levels and use both audio channels.
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 to the mix.
Audio recorded on the Hero 12 Black seems tuned for vlogging. GoPro's figured out how to focus on voices in a natural way while still letting background sounds in. This makes the 12 Black a great vlogging action camera. DJI's sound profile might suit you better if you prefer a more balanced focus on ambient audio.
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 one 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.
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 and 120 seconds.
Perhaps most notably for long-clip shooters, GoPro's boosted battery performance by 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.
In relatively overcast London, and a sunny but breezy Berlin, we never found the camera shut down while recording clips under 20 minutes. Even longer recording sessions at 5.3K up to 40 minutes didn't overheat our unit, though there seem to have been mixed results online. Irrespective, if, like us, your 5.3K clips seldom run longer than 20 minutes, the Hero 12 Black is more than up to the task.
GoPro Hero 12 Black verdict
The Hero 12 Black brings back what we love about the Hero 11 Black and refines it. The Easy Mode is indeed easy to use, making it novice-friendly, and the new advanced features add a new pro-appeal to the GoPro line.
Bluetooth audio, log capture, HDR video, and 1/4-inch tripod thread wouldn't justify an upgrade from a Hero 11 Black unless you specifically needed to capture external audio or shoot in log. For anyone upgrading from an older action camera or picking up their first, though, the Hero 12 Black is a great option.
So while GoPro hasn't cracked lowlight video, for anyone who wants detail and shoots in bright environments, we'd still call the 12 Black the best action camera of 2023.